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Kaluza: driving the energy transition with electric-vehicle charging

May 4, 2023
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Ben White

Head of Engineering, Kaluza Flex

Valts Grintals

Product Marketing Lead, Kaluza Flex

Electric vehicles already account for one in seven car sales globally, and with new gas and diesel cars being phased out across the world, global sales are forecast to reach 73 million units in 2040. But with power grids becoming increasingly dependent on variable energy sources such as wind and solar, rising demand from electric vehicles risks overstraining grids at peak times, potentially leading to power outages.

At Kaluza, we believe that our platform has a vital role to play in helping power grids and utility companies to stabilize their networks, while at the same time delivering more affordable, cleaner energy to the consumer. Powered by Google Cloud, the advanced algorithms behind our Kaluza Flex solution automatically charge electric vehicles when the power supply is at its cheapest and greenest, helping to accelerate the global transition towards a zero-carbon future. 

Decarbonizing the grid with low-cost smart charging programs

Launched by OVO Energy in 2019, Kaluza has taken its deep understanding of the energy market to partner with some of the world’s major energy suppliers and vehicle manufacturers, including AGL in Australia, Fiat and Nissan in the UK, and Mitsubishi Corporation and Chubu in Japan, to launch smart charging programs that help customers save money while reducing their carbon footprint.

A good example of this is Charge Anytime, which we recently launched with OVO Energy in the UK. With this tariff, customers use Kaluza to smart-charge their electric vehicle, and pay just 10p per kWh — a third of their household electricity rate — to do so. This means that if the customer plugs in their vehicle to charge when they get home from work at, say, 6:00 p.m. — a time when both demand and the carbon intensity on the grid are at their highest — their vehicle will then be smartly charged at the lowest cost and greenest periods throughout the night, ready for when they need it in the morning. 

This smart charging reduces the energy company's costs by enabling them to take advantage of lower wholesale electricity prices. These savings are then passed on to the end customer through tariffs such as Charge Anytime, saving customers hundreds of pounds a year and reducing their carbon footprint. Meanwhile, the National Grid is able to reduce the strain on the network during peak hours, while simultaneously using up the excess renewable energy that might otherwise have gone to waste. 

Optimized charging schedules, fueled by Google Cloud

Behind Kaluza’s smart charging solution lies some sophisticated technology, all of which is built on Google Cloud. Our core optimization engine gathers real-time data from a wide range of sources, including battery and charging data from the electric vehicles, and data from the energy suppliers and grid operators, such as the carbon intensity, and price forecasts. 

After passing through our real-time data backbone, that data is stored in BigQuery where it’s used to train and validate our smart charging optimization models. These models are then deployed with Google Kubernetes Engine so that whenever a customer plugs in an electric vehicle, data from that vehicle passes in real-time through our optimization engine to calculate the ideal charging schedule for that vehicle, ensuring it uses the cheapest, least carbon-intensive energy available.

Customer interface: easy to use, simple to build

Of course, the customer isn’t aware of any of this complexity. All they need to do is open their charging app and use Kaluza’s intuitive interface to set what time they want their car to be ready and how much charge they want in their battery. Then they simply plug in their car, and our algorithms take care of the rest. 

Customers can also use Kaluza to view breakdowns of how much carbon and money they’ve saved, along with insights around things like billing and battery life, all of which is backed by Cloud SQL

With Google Cloud, we were able to roll out this end-user app very quickly. Instead of having to build a different version of the app for each operating system, we were able to build an OS-agnostic version using Flutter, which then builds the app for each platform, enabling us to get to market faster. 

This has been a benefit of our architecture in general. With Google Cloud taking the complexity out of otherwise time-consuming development processes, we’ve been able to experiment with and validate propositions rapidly, and roll out new products and features at speed, to ensure that we remain at the vanguard of a rapidly evolving sector. 

Giving energy companies full visibility with BigQuery and Looker

As for the grid operators and energy companies, the Kaluza platform allows them to visualize how many participating electric vehicles are plugged into the network at any one time. BigQuery and Looker Studio dashboards provide granular insights, such as how many vehicles are idle, how many are charging, and how well our optimization engine is working. 

The platform also allows companies to view those vehicles on an aggregate level, and identify any issues. Google Cloud machine learning capabilities can even allow grid operators to use this aggregate view to forecast how much energy will be required at any one time, and dial the power generation up or down accordingly. 

Ultimately, these insights help network operators and utility companies to optimize energy usage, and balance out the peaks and troughs of supply and demand, ensuring that excess renewable energy is captured, while carbon-intensive fuel use is reduced. 

Feeding energy back into the grid with bidirectional charging

Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G), or bidirectional, charging is something that we are very excited about, and have begun rolling out in the UK, as we prepare to launch in other global markets. Built on the same Google Cloud architecture as the rest of Kaluza Flex, V2G not only enables smart charging, but allows electric vehicles to feed stored energy back into the grid. 

Imagine an electric vehicle battery that can store 40 kWh of energy, but only uses 5 kWh a day. That leaves 35 kWh a day that can be charged to the battery during times of low demand, when energy is cheapest and greenest, then fed back into the network during peak periods, removing the need for more fossil fuels to be burned to meet demand. 

Not only does V2G go further than conventional smart charging to make use of renewable energy when it’s abundant and support the balancing of the energy system, it also results in even lower energy prices for the customer, as they are effectively selling energy back to the grid. For example, as part of a large domestic V2G trial made in partnership with OVO and Nissan, Kaluza saved customers an average of £450 a year, with some customers saving up to £800/year by selling surplus energy back to the grid — transforming their homes into mini power stations.

With Kaluza Flex, we have a platform that offers benefits for all parties, from the grid operators, through to energy retailers and vehicle manufacturers, and all the way to the customer. Now, our aim is to bring this exciting offering to as many markets as possible, a goal which is made easier thanks to the scalable infrastructure and time-saving solutions of Google Cloud. 

As more people make the switch to electric vehicles, our goal is to ensure that smart charging becomes standard practice, as we help to deliver on the potential of electric vehicles to contribute to a greener, decarbonized future.

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